Most weeks over on Instagram, I share a snapshot of our groceries to give you an idea of what my family eats. I thought I’d share a few strategies that I use to save money on food and groceries when feeding my family to give you a little more information behind the photos.
I’ve definitely gotten more deliberate about our food budget in the past year—ever since I started using the YNAB budgeting software, which I LOVE. And while it might sound totally nerdy, I love having an idea of how much things cost and shifting money around as needed to help us both enjoy delicious meals and stay within our budget.
Most of these tips are about money saving, yes, but they are also some easy ways to create good eating habits. I’d love to know what you think after you have a read.
1. Reduce reliance on packaged snack foods.
I swear, this doesn’t mean that you automatically need to spend more time in the kitchen, but it does mean that you have more control over the added sugar and salt in your toddler’s diet. We buy foods in packages, but they are more whole foods like rolled oats, beans, canned salmon, and Cheerios—rather than cheese crackers, toddler-specific cookies, and snack bars. The latter category always costs more and while convenient, they also tend to make our kids (or at least mine) want more snack foods. Simply reduce the proportions of snack foods in favor of fresher whole foods and your wallet will see some benefits.
2. Incorporate beans.
We usually have beans or legumes twice a week because they are a nutritious source of protein and fiber, and since they are so easy to prepare. Try Chickpea Tacos, Black Bean Soup, Hummus, or just adding some black beans in with taco meat to make the meal go farther and up the healthy factor. I like to buy them dried, cook up a whole pot, and freeze them in 2 cup portions in freezer bags for later use.
3. Skip prepared foods most of the time.
I love a good salad bar or prepared food counter as much as the next girl, but man, those prices can be steep. For regular shopping trips, I skip these areas of the store to keep my budget in check—and I save them for special meals out and treat them like restaurant food, from a budget-standpoint.
4. Keep meal plans flexible—and shop sale produce.
Someone recently asked how I do my meal planning, as in whether I do it before or after I go to the grocery store. The answer is both. I generally write out our meals for the week before I go to the store, then I fill in with the produce that I purchased once I get back home. This allows me to shop sale produce and swap in things that are well-priced and the most fresh. Example: If I write pasta and meatballs, Salmon Cakes, and Chicken Sausage on our menu, and I find good prices on cauliflower, broccoli, and frozen peas, I simply add one of the veggies to each meal.
5. Know which stores in your area have the best prices.
I have a simple spreadsheet with pantry staples divided up the stores that I regularly frequent, based on which store has the best prices. This way, it’s easy to stock up whenever I have the chance and I don’t waste money paying a dollar or two more for the same item at a different store. (From what I can tell on Instagram, most of you regularly shop at more than one store anyway, so don’t take this as me trying to make your life more complicated!)
For me, this means trying to get to Trader Joe’s once a month to stock up on hormone-free cheese, yogurt, and meat, as well as nuts and baking supplies since they have the best prices (and quality) on these items in our area. I order from Thrive Market for whole grains and specialty gluten-free flours (and natural bath supplies). And I shop local market sales for the best produce that I can find at this time of the year.
I also think that it’s worth noting that it’s okay to spend money on good food for your family! And that the cost of groceries varies GREATLY depending on where you live. It seems like so many of us feel so much guilt when our food shopping costs a lot, but if you get some of these easy strategies in place, it’s possible to feel entirely okay with how much your spending—since you’ll be getting so much from each cartful.